I share constituents concerns about the welfare of cats that are bought and sold and about the detrimental impact of poor breeding practices on the welfare of cats.
I believe it is vital that all breeders follow the high animal welfare standards enshrined in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) 2006, introduced by the previous Labour Government. The AWA, for the first time, embedded in statute clear standards relating to the welfare of animals. This Act makes owners and keepers responsible for ensuring the welfare needs of their animals are met and makes it an offence to cause unnecessary physical or mental suffering to animals, including cats. Under this Act, breeders of cats may be investigated by local authorities where there are welfare concerns. It is also the case that a business that sells cats, unless it falls within certain exemptions, needs a licence under the Pet Animals Act 1951. Local authorities have powers of inspection of pet shop premises.
However, I appreciate that while there is distinct legislation for breeding and for selling in the case of dogs, there is no equivalent legislation that regulates the breeding of cats. I agree that irresponsible breeding is a growing problem and I believe poor breeding practices contribute greatly to the number of abandoned animals rescue centres have to deal with.
At the 2015 general election I stood on a manifesto which pledged to improve protection of dogs and cats and my Shadow Frontbench colleagues are currently reviewing inadequate regulations on the breeding and sale of dogs and cats and are committed to ensure that animal welfare standards can be applied to modern trading practices such as online trade.
The Opposition will look to improve standards on the sale of kittens. The evidence shows kittens should not be sold under 8 weeks of age, and as with dogs, my Shadow Frontbench colleagues are looking to see if requiring the kitten to be sold with its mother present will enable new owners to see the wellbeing of the mother. This would be one way of ensuring cats being bred are in good health and are not experiencing consequences of over breeding, like prolapse. The Opposition is also looking at how enforcement could be brought to the number of litters a cat has in any given year. I note the call for all cats to be microchipped, which has been introduced for dogs from April 2016. If this scheme delivers the desired outcome, I believe we should look at how this could be extended to other animals.
As you know, the current Government is reviewing animal establishments licensing in England and is looking at the Pet Animals Act 1951 with a view to updating the laws on the breeding and selling of pet animals. I welcome this review.
The Government has proposed creating a single "animal establishment licence" for dog breeding, animal boarding, riding establishments and pet shops. The Government has said that the law will be clear that online and home-based businesses must also be licensed and plans to update the legal requirements for each licensed activity. The Government consulted on this from December 2015 to March 2016 and in September 2016, published a summary of the responses it had received. The Government has said that over the next few months, regulations will be drafted regarding the specific proposals, which will take into account the views expressed in the consultation.
While the consultation included several proposals on standards around the sale of puppies, I understand that Cats Protection made a submission to the consultation and I hope the Government will carefully consider the charity's views when setting out its response. I also note that the Government has recently indicated that it will be looking, as part of the current licensing review, to make it a requirement that both puppies and kittens should not be sold if they are under 8 weeks of age. I am following developments on this closely.
I will certainly continue to support the improved protection of cats and press for the highest possible standards of animal welfare.